Paul Giamatti

135: White Fang Review

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(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

It’s not hard to see the many complaints about Netflix and their ways of picking up anything for their service, despite its quality or lack of. They want content for their service, but they don’t always get great stuff. Maybe out of every six or so films they pick up, only one and, if you are lucky, two of them will be really good. It doesn’t help either that companies use this to their advantage to slide their films that tested poorly or no one cared about, onto the service and take the loss. You know, how the cowardly spineless Weinsteins hid Guardian Brothers and Underdogs on the service. Luckily, that isn’t always the case, and while the upcoming Duck Duck Goose will be talked about, since it matches that notion I mentioned, let’s talk about a good Netflix animated film with White Fang. Based on the book of the same name written by Jack London, and directed by Alexandre Espigares, the director of the Oscar-winning short Mr. Hublot, White Fang is a CGI-animated feature that was picked up by Netflix, and was released on July 6th 2018 on the service. It was a film I was interested in when I saw the unique art direction and the English cast, including Rashida Jones, Nick Offerman, Paul Giamatti, and Eddie Spears. It seems to have gone under the radar for many people, and I want everyone to know that this is a good Netflix-animated feature. Let’s dive in.

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The story is about a wolf cub that lived with his mother. It follows his life through meeting a Native American tribe, and becoming one of the sled dogs of the chief named Grey Beaver, dubbed by Eddie Spears. His eventual change of ownership is to a snarly evil individual named Beauty Smith, dubbed by Paul Giamatti, and a home with a husband and wife named Marshal Weedon Scott and Maggie Scott, dubbed by Nick Offerman and Rashida Jones.

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I think a major concern for any animated film coming out is that since so many people find animation just a kid’s game, the studios won’t put effort into the film. They will try to do the minimal job to make it interesting, make the animation look nice, and push it out for the sake of making money, because animation is huge right now. Surprisingly, White Fang goes against a multitude of traditional kids’ film tropes. For one, White Fang is more episodic in its storytelling. It’s more about the life the wolf went through, and less of an overarching plot. The only real conflict of plot comes into play in the second half, when Paul Giamatti’s character comes into the story. It’s a slower-paced film. It takes its time with the story, and besides the humans, none of the animals talk. For the most part, it lets the visuals tell the story. It’s also a quiet film. It’s not loud, obnoxious, and there aren’t really any animal shenanigans. It’s like this film wanted to be everything anti-modern big Hollywood animation that isn’t Disney or Pixar. It’s a change of pace that might be jarring to many who are familiar with more fast-paced antics and storytelling. The humans aren’t even the main characters. They are there more to interact with White Fang, and don’t really have any major story arcs or challenges they need to face. I mean, you do see them more than once, but the story keeps White Fang as the main focus. It’s honestly nice to see an animated film that makes sure to treat the viewers as, well, humans. Not everything needs to be super loud, bouncy, and all that jazz. It doesn’t sugarcoat what life was like back in that time period and for certain individuals. Sure, Paul Giamatti’s character is a touch cheesy and obviously a villain, but he’s not a bumbling idiot like most bad villains from animated films. It’s a more grounded-experience, and while I’m not going to compare it to the darker animated films of the 80s, it gets close to that realm with certain scenes.

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The animation is another high point. While you can definitely tell that this did not have a massive Hollywood budget, a good studio and director can take a small budget and run with it. The painted look on the characters gives the film its own visual flair. The humans and animals all move very realistically, but they never felt robotic in their movements. It gives the film this painting-in-motion look that I love. Another fine addition to the good animation is the music. Like a lot of the film, the music is quiet and in the background, and only gets loud and orchestrated during integral scenes and intense moments. Bruno Coulais, the same composer behind Coraline, Mune: Guardian of the Moon, The Secret of Kells, and Song of the Sea, brought a lot of those same elements to this film with its European folk-sounding music.

If I had to complain about something with the film, it’s definitely the fact that while it  is definitely aimed at a slightly older audience, you can tell what’s going to happen, and what kind of character each human is. I mean, are you really going to look at someone like Paul Giamatti’s character and say he’s a good guy? I’m sure some of these characters and their personalities come from the book, but you won’t be seeing anything new here. Now, there isn’t anything wrong with that, because what matters to me is how you execute the story, but don’t be expecting some brand new variation on the original story. I’ll say that it feels more complete as a story than Incredibles 2 does.

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While it might not reinvent the wheel into some kind of fancy future wheel, White Fang is a really good animated feature. I’m actually kind of shocked Netflix got a good one, but then again, when they find films through festival circuits, they tend to do better than with this week’s Duck Duck Goose release. I definitely recommend checking it out. I honestly found myself surprised by how good it is. If you are looking for an animated film that’s going to be slower in its pace, and offers something different than other animated films in theaters, definitely check it out! While the summer might be ending soon, the animation is going to keep coming. Next time, we are going to look at Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation. Thanks for reading the review! I hope you enjoyed it, and see you next time!

Rating: Go See It!

The Other Side of Animation 80: Ratchet & Clank Review

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(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

We should probably all admit and accept that video game movies are never going to be good. I don’t care how many times we have to try to make them work, they are never going to get better, and it’s a waste of money. Sure, some films get closer than others, like 2016’s Warcraft, which should have been its own solo film instead of a universe/franchise plotting film that came out seven years too late. What’s another good example? Why, no other than 2016’s Ratchet & Clank. On paper, Ratchet & Clank looks like it has everything to make it a successful video game-based movie. It’s fully animated, so no live-action trainwrecks, it has a majority of the original cast from the games in it, one of the writers of the games was penning the script, and it seemed to have a bit of everything that fans of the franchise would love, and is a film that newcomers could check out and not be confused. So, what happened? Quite a lot happened. Reports came in that the film was already done and shelved for two years before last year’s release, the writer of the games stepped down and disowned the film, due to hints and comments saying two other writers rewrote the script, a lack of marketing and trailers, said trailers not showing off Ratchet & Clank, but the celebrities that were signed on to be in the film, and that was before release. Once it hit the theaters, no one saw it. Out of a $20 mil budget, it only made back $12 mil, it cost the animation studio Rainmaker Entertainment $10 mil in damage, and the head of Rainmaker got angry and ranted that theaters and the Hollywood system set the film up to fail since it was coming out between Zootopia and The Jungle Book. Yeah, there are not a lot of good graces with this movie. So, is it good? Or is it as bad as some people make it out to be? Well, let’s dive in.

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The story is a retelling of the first game, as it follows a Lombax named Ratchet, voiced by James Arnold Taylor, who wants to become one of the Galactic Rangers. This group of popular galactic heroes is led by an individual named Captain Qwark, voiced by Jim Ward. Unfortunately, Ratchet doesn’t pass the test to become one, and ends up moping back to his place to look into the stars and be depressed. That is, until an escape pod crashes nearby his location, and he goes to check it out to see if anyone is hurt. He finds a small robot by the name of Clank, voiced by David Kaye. Ratchet learns from his new robotic friend that there is an evil individual named Chairman Drek, voiced by Paul Giamatti, and his evil scientist named Doctor Nefarious, voiced by Armin Shimerman. They are planning to blow up worlds, take parts of said blown up world, and make a new world. Can Ratchet & Clank team up with the Galactic Rangers to save the day? Was there a reason to have Sylvester Stallone, John Goodman, Paul Giamatti, Bella Thorne, and Rosario Dawson to be in this movie? No.

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So, what is wrong about this movie? It should work, since it has all the elements that would make for a fun animated film. Sadly, it’s a really boring sit. I know that sounds weird when you have a film with space battles, creative guns, comedy, and quirky characters, and say it’s boring, but, by lord, they found a way to make it all a chore to sit through. Not only are the elements that made the franchise fun not really focused on, but the overall story is painfully generic. I get it’s a retelling of the original story, but they couldn’t find a way to make it less predictable? I mean, probably more so than any Illumination Entertainment’s films can you see what is going to happen with Ratchet & Clank. I think the major issue, besides the film being a bore, is the fact that our two iconic heroes, Ratchet and Clank are barely in the movie. Sure, you do get to see them separated from one another, but you don’t get to see them together a lot. I know the duo weren’t the most interesting in the first game, but they are a likable set of characters that this film does no justice to. Instead, a lot of the time, the film is actually focusing on Captain Qwark, and that’s already a huge red flag, if you know his story arc in the games at all. This film tries to squish in his story arc that actually spanned about five or so games. Here though, you want to know the most offensive element about the overall film? It’s the fact that the film’s scenes are literal cut scenes that the developers used in the PlayStation 4 game that was released at the same time. Why would I go out and watch this movie, when I could play the game and see a huge chunk of the film and the good writing that wasn’t screwed over by the other two writers. It’s easily one of the most baffling business decisions I have ever heard of, in terms of animation and gaming. I also don’t see the reason to hire such big actors for these roles. I mean, yeah, some of them do a decent job, but why bring back the video game actors for the big roles, and then replace the always awesome Kevin Michael Richardson with Paul Giamatti? I like both actors, but there was no reason for Giamatti to be one of the lead villains. I mean, that’s really the biggest annoyance with this movie’s A-list cast. A lot of them are decent and fine, but there was no reason for them to be there besides to have big names to sell to the public.

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The animation is also a mixed bag. While the designs look like the characters from the games, the movements are clunky, and some of the designs don’t feel as part of the games’ universe as they should. I get Sony didn’t think they needed to spend a lot of money on this project, but you can’t be making good animated films at the $20 mil price range. Or, at the very least, make a $20 mil animated film good with that price range, since I know most European-animated films can and do make good work with lesser budgets. It’s becoming more obvious when a film doesn’t have at the very least a $75+ mil budget, in terms of animation, due to how people are so trained to catch when the animation isn’t up-to-par. It’s hard to explain unless you see it in person, and then watch something like Moana or Zootopia back-to-back with Ratchet & Clank. Some of the designs are not a surprise to see, since they fit the franchise’s universe, but then there were a few times where I felt like the characters were from a totally separate cartoon or series. I guess at the very least, it’s not as bad as The Wild Life and Norm of the North. It’s on par with Rock Dog’s animation, which also needed a bit more cash to polish it all off.

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Oh, and once again, I have to disagree with people defending this movie and saying how it was “made for fans”. Well, you know what? Your fan service doesn’t make it a good movie. Sure, you can feel nostalgic for a film that is based on something from your childhood, but a PlayStation One boot-up sound, or a quick reference to Sly the Raccoon isn’t going to save this movie. They should have made the movie good first, and then put in the fan service. Saying the movie is good because it has nostalgic value and fan service just doesn’t sit well with me, because it means that you are willing to ignore everything, because it has elements you recognize from the games/anime/TV series/whatever. Plus, if this film was made for fans, then why did none of the fans go see it? Oh wait, that’s because a huge majority of the cut scenes from the game were actually from the movie! So yeah, why go see the movie when you can play the game, and get a much better experience doing so.

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So, what do I like about this movie? Well, I do admire that they decided to keep this film in an animated form, since making it a live action film would have been horrible and horrifying. While the humor was mostly miss, at the very least, the humor wasn’t super painful or annoying. Plus, there were a few lines that were pretty funny. I also enjoyed the voice work of the actors who were brought in from the video games. Jim Ward, James Arnold Taylor, David Kaye, and Armin Shimerman all do a fantastic job working off one another. Some of the big league celebrities they got were alright, and were cynically pushed into the movie, but I’ll at the least give credit to Paul Giamatti, Rosario Dawson, and John Goodman who put in some entertaining voice work.

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While not worse than Norm of the North, Ratchet & Clank is a bomb and a failure as another video game movie that couldn’t be amazing. It should have been free with the game, or free for PlayStation Plus users. It’s available on Netflix as of writing this review, and if you are for some reason wanting to buy it, by all means you should do so. I don’t think you should, since you should purchase Moana or Sing instead, but you do you. I simply know that I will never want to watch this movie ever again, and will just enjoy the video games. Well, that was underwhelming, but at the very least, it wasn’t Delgo. We will sooner or later get to that disaster. For now, let’s try and get excited for next week’s review, as we take a look at the very first Vampire Hunter D film. Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Lackluster

The Other Side of Animation 55: April and the Extraordinary World Review

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(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

So far, 2016 in animation has been pretty fantastic. It is easily having one of the best years in animation. While there have been a few clunkers like Norm of the North, Ice Age: Collision Course, Batman: The Killing Joke, Ratchet & Clank, and Bling, the huge amount of great movies have outweighed the terrible in spades. I mean, this year’s Oscar race for best film will and should include Zootopia, Finding Dory, Kung Fu Panda 3, Boy and the Beast, Only Yesterday, The Little Prince, Kubo and the Two Strings, and depending on how good it is, Moana. I also feel like while there have been a lot of great and mature films for this year, I do wish there were a few films that were similar in spirit to films like Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Arc, The Rocketeer, and those old pulp sci-fi adventure shorts and books. Luckily, GKIDS has our backs yet again with April and the Extraordinary World. This 2D French and Belgium collaboration was directed by Christian Desmarues and Franck Ekinci, and produced by Michel Duthell, Franck Ekinci, and Marc Jousset. It was released back in April (ha ha), and was recently released on DVD and on-demand. So, is this adventure worth your time into an extraordinary world? Or is it a clunker like Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow?

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The story places us into a world in the early 20th century, where all the scientists in the world are suddenly vanishing. As a result, the world doesn’t get introduced to electricity, and motor engines, and is stuck in this steam punk-like time period, where there are barely any trees or plant-like life left in the world. The story then goes on to focus on a young woman named April Franklin, voiced by Angela Galuppo. When she was a young girl, her parents and grandfather vanished after a chase sequence from the police. She is now living on her own with a talking cat named Darwin, voiced by Tony Hale.  During this time, April has been working on a formula that her parents had been working on before the incident when they vanished. Unfortunately for her, the police detective, Pizoni, voiced by Paul Giamatti, is looking for her and uses the help of a street urchin named Julius, played by Tod Fennell, to keep track of her goings-ons. What happens next is April discovers the serum, and gets chased by an unknown force that is behind the scientist kidnapping. Can she and Julius find her still-alive grandfather, voiced by Tony Robinow, and stop whatever is trying to capture them?

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What I like about this movie is, unlike Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, which only captures the look of the setting, but not its characters, is that it captures that penny dreadful/pulp fiction-style story and setting perfectly. You are kept invested with why this evil force is capturing scientists, and why this serum that April’s parents were making is so important to the force. It also leads to characters that, while some could consider them simple, are still very likable. I love April as a female lead, and that the film, like Big Hero 6, shows how science can be a pro rather than a stupid dated joke. The film definitely takes advantage of its setting, and you get a lot of creative and amazing visuals and technology for this world with barely any plant life left. While it might not be “scientifically accurate”, it does remind me of the creativity with the idea of steam punk, like in Steamboy with its massive machines. It also has some good adventurous scenes and chase sequences with the chase at the beginning of the movie easily being one of the best scenes in animation in 2016. It really does capture a The Last Crusade and Rocketeer-style adventure film that you rarely get to see these days.

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The animation is great. It has a lovely French-style comic look to the entire film, and it is smooth in terms of movements. Like most European animations, the physical humor is blended well into the story, and is truly funny and never feels forced. I don’t know why, but with the exception of a few people in Hollywood, European animation has found a way to make humor gel well, and not feel clunky or awkward. Maybe it’s the execution of the jokes, or maybe it’s the writing. I don’t know, but the look and atmosphere brings in elements of films you would see from Pixar and Studio Ghibli. Heck, this entire film reminds me of Castle in the Sky in some ways. It’s a film that will age really well for future viewings and generations. I also enjoyed the voice cast. While I think maybe one or two performances were just okay, I really liked everyone else. They also hired a pretty good cast of actors for this film, like Paul Giamatti, JK Simmons, Susan Sarandon, Tony Hale, and Angela Galuppo.

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Unfortunately, this tale of adventure in a steam punk world is slightly flawed. I think even though it almost has a two-hour running time, they could have maybe made it a bit longer to explain a few elements, or at the very least fix some of the clunky storylines, like the relationship with April and Julius. The conflict at times feels a bit forced with the two, and while I do like the two characters, I think they could have handled the relationship better.

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Still, I really do love this movie. I think it’s easily in my top 10 of the year with its, pardon the pun, extraordinary world, likable characters, creativity, and how fun it is to watch. I would have to think about where I would put it in terms of the best of GKIDS, but I think no matter where I put it, April and the Extraordinary World is still going to be a pretty big recommendation if you like fun adventure movies. Definitely get the Blu ray and DVD combo pack, and lose yourself in a world of steam and adventure.  Let’s keep these positive vibes going with the controversial Sausage Party. Thanks for reading. I hope you enjoyed the article, and see you all next time!

Rating: Go See It!